Ask.fm: social network that worries the United Kingdom

The recent suicide of Hannah Smith, 14, harassed on Ask.fm site, curiously shed light on this social network.Here, teens go wild, to flirt, to lead away from the eyes of parents. Easy: they are unaware of its existence.

For two weeks, we see her smiling on the cover of every British newspaper boil. Old Hannah Smith, 14, was found hanged in the family home by his sister. The culprit? To his family, a website, Ask.fm, a social network that has existed for three years. But if you were born before 1993, little chance that you have heard more than half of users are teenagers.

“We secretly hope that strangers will tell us they love us”

The principle is simple: you have a profile where visitors can post questions. Nothing really revolutionary. But the key to success is the anonymity. Anyone can ask anything without unfold. “If you sign on, is that we secretly hope that strangers will tell us they love us, admits Benjamin, 16. C is a bit of a fantasy for a teenager, becoming popular, to be told nice things for strangers. “

Remove anonymity and it is three-quarters of teens who will desert. So we launched morons challenges, “cap or not cap”, it boasts, it is tested.Ultimate goal for the boys get “Dedis boobs”, these photos of girls posing in bra, and your registered name between their breasts. “There are guys who have a million fans and who have a or two a day!, sighs Benjamin.Moi, I just had a few ‘you’re cute. “

Every morning, Benjamin repeats the same gestures. He turns on his phone, looking at his mail, his Facebook, his Twitter. Then answered a few questions to Ask: “I checked my account a dozen times a day,” he says. Today, no fascinating question. ” What do you think of doping in sport? “ or “What movie inspires you the most?”. “It was also insulted me from time to time. But I do not take it seriously. “ His sister is 14 years old, too, to Ask. “But I do not look at his profile, he grimaced. Sucks, she said anything. “

Ask.fm is like a virtual sandbox whose parents did not even know existed.A “truth or dare” digital you do not know who challenge you. Ideal for whether the third daughter of B has a boyfriend (“T am Single?”). Slightly less when the entire class decided to make you his scapegoat (“T tro ugly head your way no friends.” ) “Everybody is insulted at least once, says Ryan, 16, another teen hyperconnected. Sometimes they make themselves more to insult a guy. Condition of anonymity, there are no limits. “ Sometimes the “action” turns trash. “Make us a favor and die”, “Go drink bleach” advise users to old Hannah, who has advice for his eczema. Following the story spreads on the front page of every British newspaper.

As in Britain, it is the fourth time attributed the suicide of a teenager in Ask.fm. Hannah Smith is the victim too. Ask.fm is for several days the enemy # 1 in the UK. A virtual threat to innocent teenagers. The Facebook group “Ask.fm Should Be deleted” (“should be deleted Ask.fm”), created in September 2012, then increased from 20 000 to 130 000 members in a week.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has called for a boycott. Advertisers – including mobile operator Vodafone – jumping ship as fast as they arrived, frightened by a reputation that feels a little too much sulfur. They were the ones who yet, shortly after the site was created in June 2010, rushed, attracted by the runaway success of this new toy for teens.

Behind this site, two brothers from the Baltic Sea

At the head of the kingdom Ask.fm, there are two brothers, Mark and Ilja Terebin. They are not computer geniuses on the East Coast of the United States, but from a country that most teens peineraient to place on a map: Latvia. These two beautiful kids of the Baltic Sea, barely thirty, created the site with daddy’s money, a former soldier of the Red Army. They buy a domain name .fm reserved for Micronesia. The advantage is that it’s free, and above all, it sounds good: Ask.fm is like a free radio that could do everything.

The principle itself is not very innovative, there is even already: it’s Formspring. But the two brothers will give him another magnitude: they are going to internationalize. Translated into thirty-six languages, Ask.fm becomes the favorite of Bulgarian teenagers, Brazilian or Japanese platform. Soon, the startup is exceeded. And when in the fall of 2012, the first suicide shines a spotlight on them, the brothers Terebin are discreet.In the only interview that Mark, the youngest, will the media, he rejects his responsibilities as a unit. “British teenagers are just more cruel than others,” he says. Feeling the wind change, they still hire a communications team to limit the damage.

“Cyber-bullying existed before, it will exist after”

In France, the authorities have looked at the site in June, thanks to an article in the World dedicated to the phenomenon. A few days later, the country already has a million registered. Half are under 18. A runaway success – most users have a profile for less than six months -. Has yet escaped a whole swathe of the population “My parents did not even know that it exists!” admits Benjamin. However, boycotting Ask not solve anything. And if on Twitter Nadine Morano has made ​​its new workhorse, specialists are more measured.

“It should have been boycotting MSN there ten years or Facebook there three years! Relativize Justine Atlan, director of e-Childhood, a specialist in child protection on the internet. It focuses on Ask when it’s just an additional place harassment.The site has invented nothing. Cyberstalking existed before, it will continue to exist in the future. “

Others see it as an expression of a deeper change in society. “So far, the construction of identity by going in search of autonomy, the independence from the group, Stéphane Hugon analysis , sociologist and founder of the Institute Eranos, which examines the role of new technologies in the evolution of society. Today it’s the opposite. Now the individual exists only by and for its network. “ And the expert, commenting Foucault: “To understand a society, we must understand the neurosis it generates.Nowadays, neurosis is the addiction. And is addicted to the ‘other’. Our construction is done through his eyes. “

Ask.fm, cyber-bullying and more broadly social networks are merely symbols of the modern world in which everything is faster. New benchmarks with which to juggle adults to understand the universe in their teens. “We must understand that the internet is like the street. It is a public space in which we should not leave a child alone, “ explains Stéphane Hugon.

Ask.fm, fad already on the decline? ” If we’re all on Ask, mostly because it’s new, believes Ryan. Moi already I feel I have done the trick. It’s always the same questions. And if I have something to ask my friends, I go on Facebook. Especially now that there are plenty of relous who insult you. “

“If teens realize they can not trust the site, they will quickly get bored, also predicted Justine Atlan, e-Enfance. Ask.fm is sentenced to evolve if it is to continue exist. “ Because on the internet as in real life, we grow, we structure, we accept the rules. And even on the web, adolescence ultimately does not last long.

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